Wednesday, December 13, 2006

New Holiday Scam: Gift Cardjacking

I got an email from the University of Colorado police department this morning with a warning of a new scam. It appears that criminals are writing down gift card serial numbers, leaving the card on the hook to be purchased, then watching the gift card website to see when the card has been activated. Wow, if only these scum would put their innovative minds to good purpose.

The police memo recommended buying only cards from stick not displayed or cards whose serial numbers can only be revealed when a scratchable covering is removed.

Here's the email:
The CU Police Department would like to inform everyone in the campus community of a -gift card scam- that could make someone's holidays less than happy.
This information has been available for some time and has been reported in news sources such as the Wall Street Journal, but it bears repeating at this time of year when gift card purchases are common.

Information has been received from sources that indicate thieves have been going into stores and have been writing down gift card serial numbers from gift cards that are openly displayed for sale on racks or counters. The thieves do not take the card; rather they leave it for some unsuspecting customer to purchase. The thieves then periodically check the card web site to determine when the card has been bought, activated and a balance made available on that card for use. Once the balance is available, the thieves strike quickly, using the card number for online purchases and tapping out the card balance as quickly as they can, leaving the holder of the card with little or no value on the card.

Security experts suggest that if gift cards are purchased, that they be obtained from a stock of cards not kept out in the open or that the gift card has security features that would prevent this type of scam from happening.
Some gift cards have a scratchable covering over the serial number, and that covering is removed at the time of purchase, revealing the serial number. This type of card can help prevent such scams as it is easy to see a card that has been tampered with due to the serial number covering being missing at the time of purchase.

Saudi Arabia: Street Cred

From Informed Comment

The New Middle East Cold War: Saudi/Israel/Lebanon versus Iran/Syria/Iraq/Hizbullah

Helene Cooper with Hassan Fattah of the NYT has the scoop that Saudi King Abdullah told US VP Dick Cheney two weeks ago that if the US withdrew precipitately from Iraq, the kingdom would have little choice but to support the Sunni Arab guerrillas. The Saudi government had pledged to the US not to do so as long as US troops were in Iraq. But it is alleged that Saudi oil millionaires privately already send money to the guerrillas. Saudis, as Wahhabi Muslims, belong to a sect that is to the right of Sunnism. But the Wahhabi tradition dislikes Shiites and in any Sunni-Shiite struggle, the Wahhabis will come in on the Sunni side.

This item is no surprise, of course, and I have brought up this likelihood a number of times myself. What is remarkable is that it is being stated by the Saudi leadership and published in the press. The Saudis are usually circumspect. If they are leaking this sort of thing, their hair must be on fire with anxiety.

This public posturing is no surprise. There is now jockeying to see who will take control of the situation in Iraq. Iran, Saudi Arabia, or al Qaeda.

There is a lot of talk about how the Saudis are worried about Iran but this is not the case as much as they are worried about an al Qaeda friendly Iraq (on their border). The Saudi royals know that an al Qaeda's goal is to take them down and they need to show some "street cred" in Iraq to head off this challenge.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Climate Change Denier?

From Global warming: the chilling effect on free speech

Whatever the truth about our warming planet, it is clear there is a tidal wave of intolerance in the debate about climate change which is eroding free speech and melting rational debate. There has been no decree from on high or piece of legislation outlawing climate change denial, and indeed there is no need to criminalise it, as the Australian columnist suggests. Because in recent months it has been turned into a taboo, chased out of polite society by a wink and a nod, letters of complaint, newspaper articles continually comparing climate change denial to Holocaust denial. An attitude of ‘You can’t say that!’ now surrounds debates about climate change, which in many ways is more powerful and pernicious than an outright ban. I am not a scientist or an expert on climate change, but I know what I don’t like - and this demonisation of certain words and ideas is an affront to freedom of speech and open, rational debate.


For all the talk of simply preserving the facts against climate change deniers, there is increasingly a pernicious moralism and authoritarianism in the attempts to silence certain individuals and groups. This is clear from the use of the term ‘climate change denier’, which, as Charles Jones argued, is an attempt to assign any ‘doubters’ with ‘the same moral repugnance one associates with Holocaust denial’ ...

I have used the term before. I thought it described the people who would ignore evidence, emphasize outlying evidence and deemphasize more common evidence, play rhetorical word games, etc. in order to be critical of anthropogenic climate change fairly well. There was absolutely no connection in my mind between a climate change "denier" and a Holocaust denier. In fact this seems a dubious connection that is more designed itself to extinguish free speech. If ever you are confronted with someone who is obviously in denial you better not mention that fact or you will be accused of trying to associate them with Holocaust denial. What rubbish.

Having said that though I have come to the conclusion that, in terms of the climate change debate, such a term is not helpful. It just sets up tribalistic camps that are not conducive to open discussion. It may be hard to tell by the news coverage of late but there is still plenty of work to do on understanding climate change and the human role in it (this is not to say we should take no action on it). Open debate is the means by which we in open societies address major issues. Sure there are abusers of this open debate, people who point to it and claim that the debate shows we should not take action, that we don't know enough. But we shouldn't let the abuse of a few miscreants stifle open discussion. Science and open society require open debate in order to function properly and the term "climate change denier", fairly or not, has become weighted toward stifling rather than opening debate. I think it should be dropped.